Diamond Doris by Doris Payne with Zelda Lockhart

 “Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief” by Doris Payne with Zelda Lockhart; NY, HarperCollins Publishers, 2019.

Published in late 2019, Diamond Doris is the exciting autobiography of living legend Doris Payne. Currently, Ms. Payne is but a sweet old lady that recently enjoyed her 91st birthday this past October, and you’d definitely want to help her cross any and every city street on her path. Little do most realize, sweet Ms. Payne is a career jewel thief with over six decades of crime on her rap sheet! Born in 1930 to a coal miner in Slab Fork, West Virginia, Doris Marie Payne has led a very exciting and colorful life. She more than happily shares the details in the pages of this wonderfully written book, dripping with all the rightfully due pride she has as a master thief!

Whether or not you approve of Ms. Payne’s choice of career, it’s certainly a fascinating and suspenseful journey that she’s made for herself throughout life, especially fun to read if you’re a fan of true crime tales or Ocean’s Eleven-style movies. In the pages of Diamond Doris, Ms. Payne speaks openly and proudly about her crimes, happily admitting to have gone by at least 20 aliases, 10 social security numbers and 9 dates of birth, with her highest value theft being that of a 10-carat diamond ring, valued at $500,000 when she stole it in the 1970s. This ring would be worth $3.6 million in today’s currency! Though she was eventually arrested for the crime after trying to flee the country, the stolen ring was never found, and so she was released after only 9 months.

Her crime sprees have taken her all across the United States, from Costa Mesa, California to Charlotte, NC. Ms. “Diamond” Doris happily shares stories that include daring escapes, details of her sleight of hand techniques, and much more. Considering that Ms. Payne was arrested as recently as 2017, the book itself was likely written at least partially behind bars. You may be wondering what exactly drove her to this literal life of crime.

Ms. Payne took her first piece of jewelry at the age of 10. She says she’s never actually had a legitimate job but she never really needed to. Payne would dress nicely and use her charm to trick jewelry store employees into giving her the goods and is believed to have made millions of dollars during her career. Like fictional criminal master mind Walter White from Breaking Bad, she was just good at it, and she knew it. Alas, also like Walter White, it was difficult for her to always keep or meaningfully spend her ill-gotten money, and so her thievery became its own endless self-feeding habit.

I’m no psychologist, but a part of me has to wonder if textbook kleptomania was a part of her decision-making process. Either way, she has managed to live far longer than most criminals, and without ever spending a meaningful amount of time in prison in the process. I’d call that a win all by itself. Plus, she became an (in)famous American icon to boot. I can only hope that I’ll still capable of hoodwinking folks when I’m 90.

Diamond Doris was a thrilling, thought-provoking, and spirited journey into the mind and memories of a crafty criminal mastermind that’s always been wise beyond her years and quicker with her hands than anyone else. I for one would be quite honored if she paid our humble library a visit to steal her own book from our shelves one day. Also, I hate to be the one to inform Ms. Payne, but being an author is a perfectly legitimate way of making money. Does this truly mark the end of her criminal career? Only time will tell… (But I’m betting not!)

Donavon Anderson is a Library Assistant in the Reference Department at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at danderson@alamancelibraries.org.